This October, I had the privilege of attending PolicyLink’s Equity Summit, a cross-sectoral national convening of thousands of changemakers and equity stakeholders addressing the racial and economic injustice pervasive throughout the fabric of American culture and politics. As an EAP Creative and Cultural Equity Delegate, the Summit helped me rediscover my core value and purpose.
For nearly ten years I worked in various sectors of nonprofit administration, spanning education, youth development, and the arts. Burnt out and no longer interested in participating in and supporting the nonprofit culture of martyrdom and instability, I took time off to dance and travel. When it came time to re-enter the workforce, I debated with myself whether to return to arts administration. After attending the 2012 Dance/USA conference in San Francisco, I realized an obvious need to address the absence of an equity-driven lens for the programming, operations, and governance of our arts institutions.
Fast-forward to 2015…. In my growth over the past three years working in cultural equity grantmaking and, currently, the intersection of arts and real estate, I find myself again in a period of personal and professional transformation.
In between absorbing rich content in plenaries, such as Race, Place, and Economy: Winning on Equity in the 21st Century, and participating in stimulating sessions, like Driving Equitable Development through Arts and Culture at Equity Summit, I met Reverend Samuel Ware. I had the pleasure of conversing with him twice over breakfast, which was highly unlikely given that there were 3,000 attendees. Reverend Ware, who has worked in affordable housing as the Executive Director of Building United of Southwestern Pennsylvania for over 13 years, shared, “The only reason why I’m doing this work is because God called me to do this work.”
For those of us who grew up in the church, Reverend Ware’s motivation is not unusual. In fact, it’s a common reply to ‘why do you do what you do?’ I’m certain we’ve all heard “I want to make the world a better place for my children and grandchildren,” which he added. While these are familiar responses to such an inquiry, their simplicity provoked me to dig deeper and reflect on my role in the arts.
Remembering my integrity developed from the teachings of Jesus Christ––a radical who used a lens of love to do His/God’s work––I realized that service has always been a core value reflected in my professional choices. With the distractions of ego and fear taking the lead in my career, my sense of service took the back seat over the years.
Invigorated and inspired with a new sense of self and motivation, my perspective shifted from individualism to a mindset of what I call communitarianism (community + humanitarianism). The fear that I once held around bringing equity frameworks into the arts changed into narratives of optimism, possibility, and opportunity. I’m in the arts not to support a broken system but to shift the arts nonprofit culture toward a healthy and thriving ecosystem of creativity and sustainability. It’s not about me or my personal agenda but the greater artist community. I’m right where I’m supposed to be, serving the arts community by actively driving equity for the arts.
During that week, I also recognized the importance of self-reflection after learning opportunities, which is rarely a priority in the nonprofit arts field. As arts nonprofit workers, we tend to lose sight of our purpose in the madness of the nonprofit frenzy. We are expected to do our learning “on-the-job,” which is valuable, but professional growth also requires opportunities to simply be a student without the obligations of work. Conferences can provide this classroom experience.
Now, I’m not saying that we all need to go to church. I, myself, moved away from the church, but still choose service-oriented career paths. What I’m saying is that we should find meaningful time for reflection. From where do you draw your sense of purpose and core values? How is this reflected in your personal and professional roles and in the work you do currently? Asking ourselves these questions may work wonders for all arts and culture workers and ultimately the field. Without taking the time to pause, I might have lost my chance to rediscover and reestablish my core value and purpose for another ten years! I wouldn’t want you to miss your opportunity!
Tyese M. Wortham serves small to mid-sized arts organizations through real estate development as the Office/Project Manager at the Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST). She brings extensive nonprofit administration experience to her role, spanning education, family literacy, youth development, and the arts. A 2014 Emerging Arts Professionals MADE award recipient, Tyese has been recognized for her expertise as a panelist, consultant, facilitator, and advisor for various Bay Area arts organizations, including the Alliance for California Traditional Arts and the Isadora Duncan Dance Awards. Tyese creates life balance by nourishing her physical, mental, and spiritual health through dance, yoga, and meditation. Contact Tyese on LinkedIn.
You’ve been at that great feast. The one where the food is tasty and the conversation has got good flavor too. You take a bite while listening intently to the fellow across the table. They sip some of wine while you give your two cents on the state of affairs. Well we had a bit of that going on at What’s for Dinner? Bringing Racial Equity to the Table for Emerging Arts Administrators, an EAP MADE project awardee. On October 18th artists and staff from several Bay Area organizations came together to talk about what structural racism looks like in their field, at work, and in their lives, and what to do about it. It was a juicy conversation indeed.
The structure and organization of the day helped to digest a rich amount of information and dialogue. [workshop participant]
We began by establishing some clarity around language. What is white privilege? Internalized oppression? Institutional and structural racism? Are diversity, inclusion, and equity the same? Why does it matter? Popular narratives around success and failure in the United States are so divorced from a structural analysis that it inevitably serves to reinforce racism, and even other forms of oppression. And yes, we also talked about the role that art plays (intentionally or not) in that process, and how that process influences the making of art. And finally, we explored what that means for artists and arts organizations to be a major source of that narrative, of storytelling in our society.
We need a space to practice our own story telling. [workshop participant]
One of the earliest ways that we try to make sense of the world is to try to understand the stories that are told to us. As a result, we have millions of conditioned responses swimming around in our head. This is good, and that bad. Watch out for this one. Embrace that. Hold this one at an arm’s distance. We are constantly juggling them, trying to keep them in check. What do we do with all of those stories? What do they do to us? From here we investigated the influence of implicit bias and resolved that there is interconnectivity among the art, society and the artists. Storytelling for the artist is deeply personal, and the response to that art is both personal (including privilege, bias, etc.) and structural (swimming in the context of history, culture, etc.) The mere existence of our art is not just a comment on the art itself, but also the structure in which it exists.
This training was very informative and provided some great tools on how to approach racial equity professionally and in my everyday life. It was great to be in a room of arts professionals looking for the same answers, especially when discussing intersectionality. [workshop participant]
So we dug deeper and unpacked our various identities in the context of privilege and marginalization. We even asked the scary question, “How does identity exist within your organization or the arts community?” Then we went even further and explored how we could leverage our areas of privilege for the greater good by making very direct, conscious choices around issues of race.
And we did it all while making some amazing Play Doh art! So yes. You missed a great dinner conversation. So don’t miss out the next time we decide to serve up some realness around race and the arts.
– Tammy Johnson
A word from Organizers Cristal Fiel and Tyese Wortham
In our ten years of experience as arts administrators, we have come across the issue of racial equity time and again. However, we didn’t know how to speak about racial equity and the arts so that colleagues and leadership would be able to listen and hear us until going through Tammy Johnson’s Step-Together-Step curriculum.
In response to our desire to push the conversation of cultural equity forward, we applied for Emerging Arts Professionals’ (EAP) MADE program and were awarded the opportunity to bring in art and racial equity trainer Tammy Johnson to the EAP network. Our goal for “What’s for Dinner: Bringing Racial Equity to the Table for Emerging Arts Professionals” was to provide a safe space for emerging arts administrators, artists, and allies to learn how to tackle issues around cultural equity that might arise in workshop participants’ respective cultural institutions.
As arts administrators of color, it is important to us that we approach our work with a lens of cultural equity. Our previous trainings with Tammy’s Step-Together-Step curriculum have informed us with a language around race and racism and have empowered us to feel more comfortable with talking about the “elephant in the room.”
We all come from different places, but we hope that the Emerging Arts Professional’s continued dedication to this issue would allow the network to find common ground to advance a culture that calls for a more equitable society.
– Cristal and Tyese
About the facilitator:
Tammy Johnson is a dancer, writer, and equity consultant. After directing electoral campaigns in Milwaukee, Johnson spent a decade advancing racial equity as a trainer, writer, and public speaker at Race Forward. Having gained recognition for her knowledge of equitable public policy practices at Race Forward, she co-produced Race and Economic Recovery with LinKtv and Race Forward’s Wordvideo blog series. Johnson is co-director of the award winning bellydance duo Raks Africa. Tammy lives in Oakland,California and can be reached at tmjabundance.com
About the organizers:
Cristal Fiel holds a bachelor degree in Sociology and Ethnic Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. As Editor in Chief of the literary and arts organization, Maganda Magazine, she discovered her calling to work in the arts field. She has served as administrative coordinator and board member of the Asian American Women Artists Association, and has volunteered with a number of Bay Area organizations, including the San Francisco Film Society. Fiel is currently a program associate at the San Francisco Arts Commission.
Tyese Wortham is a grantmaker and administrator in the arts, teaching artist, and dancer with a commitment to advancing cultural equity in San Francisco Bay Area’s arts landscape by serving under-represented and under-resourced communities. She has been recognized for her expertise in cultural arts as a panelist, consultant, facilitator, and committee member for various Bay Area arts organizations, including the Isadora Duncan Dance Awards. Tyese served as a fellow in the first cohort of the EAP Fellowship Program.
What’s for Dinner?” was a workshop supported by Emerging Arts Professionals’ MADE, a re-granting program at draws on the inspiration and power of the network to propose and execute projects that address immediate solutions of the day. Cultural Equity is one of the four primary Areas of Study for EAP, and we are deeply thankful to Tammy Johnson, Tyese Wortham, and Cristal Fiel for providing this workshop to all of us. Learn more about MADE here: http://www.emergingsf.
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